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An Open Letter to the Ten Wealthiest Financiers in America: You're Not Worth $900,000 an Hour!

Posted on Friday, May 28th, 2010 at 9:48 am by Les Leopold

This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post

Dear Messrs. Tepper, Soros, Simons, Paulson, Cohen, Icahn, Lampert, Griffin, Arnold and Falcone,

It's now estimated that about 150,000 teachers will lose their jobs next year because of the financial crisis touched off by your industry.

On behalf of the 3 million young people who would have been their students, I have a proposition for you: Donate 50 percent of your 2009 earnings to keep those 150,000 teachers in their classrooms. Each of you, on average, still would net over $935 million dollars for the year (you should be able to scrape by on that) — and the money you'd forgo would ensure that 3 million kids would get an education.

That the ten of you personally received $18.7 billion (not million) from your hedge fund proceeds in 2009 is quite a feat, given that it was the worst economic year since the Great Depression. You each got roughly $36 million a week — over $900,000 an hour! Meanwhile, as result of the Wall Street shenanigans you helped engineer, 29 million Americans are now without work or forced into part-time jobs.

While you may not feel personally responsible for the crash, you do bear some responsibility since you are major players in the financial industry. (Funny how no one is accepting responsibility for the financial crisis.) As Leo Hindery Jr. put it, your industry is a

"profit-driven, greedy, selfish institution that, with its unbridled compensation practices and current light-touch regulatory regime is, I truly believe, behind almost every major societal and economic ill that has befallen the United States since 1980."

As you know, you probably would have earned little or nothing in 2009 if the American taxpayer hadn't bailed out the entire financial system. That $18.7 billion you collected didn't fall from the sky. Fearing another great depression, we poured nearly $10 trillion into the financial sector in the form of loans, liquidity programs, asset guarantees and the like. Those taxpayer subsidies should have gone to enhancing the public good, not pumping up obscene levels of private gain. Instead the net result of our mammoth rescue effort is that 150,000 teachers are laid off while you collect more than $36 million a week.

It's a troubling saga of public decay: Your high-flying financial manipulations helped bring down our economy. Millions of people lost their jobs and were no longer able to pay taxes; businesses everywhere went under. And now state and local governments are going broke and slicing their budgets. Tens of thousands of teachers are losing their jobs. (Those of you who live in New Jersey are watching this play out with a vengeance, as school programs are slashed to the bone.) Meanwhile, you walk away with billions, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers.

I challenge you to explain this story to your children or to anyone else who isn't on your payroll. How can you justify making more than $900,000 an hour in an industry that is essentially responsible for the loss of 150,000 teachers?

Not to pick on you, Mr. Tepper, but you led the list by earning $4 billion in 2009. That's more than $1.9 million an hour, or $32,000 per minute. You earn more in one minute than the average entry-level teacher earns in one year! Please explain.

You personally can do something about this insanity. You can prevent the further deterioration of our public educational system. You can let America know that you are willing to right a wrong.

You know better than anyone else in the country how truly fortunate you are. And you know that you can easily afford to put thousands of teachers back to work, shoring up the public educational system that is at the core of our democracy. And let's be honest, you can cough up $9 billion and still be wealthier than the pharaohs.

In a saner world, we would have placed a 50 percent windfall profits tax on all financial earnings in 2009. That would have helped compensate for the massive public subsidies we provided to your industry. It would have replenished our local, state and federal coffers. But as a nation we are cowed by financial power. We simply do not have the will to challenge our distorted distribution of wealth–at least not yet. However, with the stroke of a pen, you can help rebalance the scales.

In truth, I don't expect you to rise to this challenge. I suspect that if you see this letter, you will come up with a thousand and one reasons to dismiss my request. Some of you might point out that you are already giving hundreds of millions to charities and educational institutions. Or maybe you'll just be miffed that someone like me has the gall to make such an outrageous proposition. But it's not me that you need to think about. You need to think about those 150,000 teachers and the 3 million kids who won't be learning from them next year. Your wealth will have little value if the society around you crumbles.

The time may come when the American people demand a modicum of financial justice and economic sanity. This would require something far beyond the current financial reform, which is basically a gift to Wall Street and your hedge funds. (After all, under this legislation, you'll still be able to pay only 15 percent tax on your earnings, which is virtually criminal given our revenue shortfalls.)

The time may come when we stop allowing financiers to earn billions while we gut our public infrastructure. I don't know when that will be or how we'll get there. But if you keep piling up your billions with no concern for the American people, you might just hasten the day when an angry and determined public comes knocking on your door.

Better you should put our teachers back to work. No?

P.S. If you employ those 150,000 teachers, I'll donate the royalties from my latest book, The Looting of America. After all, you're part of the reason the book keeps selling.

Les Leopold is the author of The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance destroyed our Jobs, Pensions and Prosperity, and What We Can Do About It Chelsea Green Publishing, June 2009.

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